Jesus and the Spirit
An old gospel song: turn your eyes upon Jesus.
We spend too much time focused on church and Christians; and these things can discourage us.
“If that is what it means to be a Christian,” count me out. But Here is what it means to be a Christian:
Jesus the rabbi, the redeemer, the risen lord, These next weeks we will keep our eyes on Jesus.
Here is our text: Mark’s gospel, chapter three: Samuel Wyatt Curson.
This story about Jesus resonates with us. It is about understanding why people do the things they do. This is the perennial challenge of people, of parents, of spouses, of partners, of observers of all kinds, of voters of all kinds.
We see children walking for weeks to get at the southern border. Are we ask, Are they crazy?We see adult storming the capital and we think, They must be possessed!.We see athletes kneeling at the flag, and wonder what motivates them. We are called to see, to hear, to understand, why.
Jesus our Lord came healing, speaking, casting out the demons, raising the dead, challenging tradition, calling disciples, disrupting the status quo, preaching a different kind of kingdom.
And people were trying to understand. Is he crazy? Is he possessed? Is he full of the spirit?
Last week I posted a picture on FB. It was a woman, wearing on her shirt a patch: the yellow star of David, with the words “Not Vaccinated.” She was advertising the patch for $5. It was a store in Nashville.
I wrote on my Facebook post: “I do not have the vocabulary necessary to describe the wickedness of this stunt.” Many agreed with me. They wrote words like disgusting, awful, shameful, referring (I think) to the woman, not me!
But one person did not. Rabbi Rachel Bregmen. She is the rabbi of Temple Beth Tefilloh in Brunswick, Georgia, my home county. She is a dear friend of mine. She wrote, in part, and I paraphrase:
“A few things I’d like to share. I’m struck by the reactions of those who have posted here: the intensity and the certainty. We know little about this situation, the motivations and so on. Living in an era of quick judgment and fast condemnation is hurting all of us. I suspect the persons making and buying these arm bands feel similarly about the world: quick to decide who is right or wrong. The more we can move away from this orientation, the better our very broken world, will be.
“No, I don’t love the arm bands. And I can recognize the feelings the wearer or creator of the arm band is expressing. So while I think the form of expression is in poor taste, I suspect the people making and wearing these stars feel oppressed, afraid for their freedom, or even afraid for their lives….”
The rabbi was calling me to a more sympathetic, discerning understanding of why this shop owner and her customers were doing this. It is not easy to discern motive, and intent, and purpose. Then or now. Why and for what purpose?
Jesus himself stirred up this same conundrum. Jesus came healing and teaching and challenging and calling. Some said he was crazy. His family, his mother and his siblings: he is crazy. Out of his mind. My own family has been dealing with mental illness for along time. I know what it is and what it means. We know about disability and meds and bizarre behavior.
Mental health is a growing problem in our county, perhaps in the whole world. It is a serious problem. It is often a medical problem. It demands counseling, and medicine, and specialized services. Too often mentally ill people end up under bridges, in jail, in morgues.
Too often teachers and police and families do not know how to handle those with mental illness, the crazy people of the world. Too often churches do not know how to handle crazy people, people who’s behavior we do not understand, people who do not fit neatly into our categories, into our social norms, into our desires for a church that is winsome and attractive and vibrant and full of the spirit.
We want the Spirit but not that kind of spirit, the spirit of craziness, the spirit of weirdness, the spirit of oddness, the spirit of illness. I know what it means to say about a family member, He is crazy. So it was that day with Jesus. They had no other way to explain things.
But there was another way.
Our text describes this other way. Learned people came down from Jerusalem. Religious people. Scholars. The Elite. Anywhere from Jerusalem is down. Because Jerusalem sits on the top of the mountain ridge that runs right down the promised land, like a spine. It is always down, to the east and to the west, because of the geography. You can coast on a bicycle from Jerusalem down to Jericho and the Jordan River.
But going from Judea to Galilee, from the Dead Sea to the sea of Galilee, is north, so we can also say, they came up from Jerusalem to Galilee to investigate Jesus, to make their own judgment.
They had an explanation for Jesus: he is possessed. He is possessed by an evil spirit, by the spirit of satan, Beelzebub, the devil, the spirit of hell. This interpretation of Jesus and many others has a long and illustrious history in human affairs. The devil made him do it.
In college I had a part in the play The Crucible. It is about that ugly episode in American history, pointing fingers at women in Christianized New England and saying, Possessed. They drowned some and hung others. Exorcism is still practiced by Christian people. They lay hands on a person, often during baptism.
The Catholic Catechism says this: “When the church ask publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism.” I have never done this. But many do. Perhaps you have had an exorcism in your circle of ministry.
Jesus was familiar with evil spirits. Everywhere he went, he commanded evil spirits to release their hold on some person. I honor this. I honor it as a mystery that I do not understand and have no experience with. It was common in the time of Jesus and we are not surprised when the critics of Jesus appeared and declared, “He is possessed by an evil spirit. That’s where he gets this power over things.”
But Jesus had his own take on his behavior. I am not crazy. I am not possessed. I am anointed! I am anointed with the spirit of God, with the power of God, with the purpose of God.
In the account left to us by Luke he quotes Jesus as saying, “If I by the finger of God cast out Satan, then the kingdom has come among you.” And Matthew puts it this way: “If I by the spirit of God cast out Satan, then the power of God is loosed, then the purposes of God are being realized. The lame walking. The blind seeing. The prisoner freed. The stranger welcomed. The gospel is preached and lived and treasured. Whenever I see these things, I say, “There is the anointing of God. There is the power of God. There is the will of God.”
Turn your eyes upon these things, upon the Risen Lord who is doing this work here and there and everywhere, in the big city and throughout the countryside; in the English speaking world and in those places that have never heard our peculiar way of speaking. On every continent, among all sorts of people,
Jesus the Risen lord is loosening the bound, healing the sick, welcoming the stranger, denouncing the wicked, pounding swords into plows, calling people to live in peace. If we see this and discard it as craziness, we miss the work of God in the world. If we see this and dismiss it as the work of worldly powers or wicked powers, we miss the coming of God into the world.
If we see these things and denounce them, we are denying God, and Jesus, and the Spirit, we are, in the words of Jesus, blaspheming the Spirit, the holy spirit, the divine spirit, the spirit of God, and we are missing the kingdom of God. The rule of God.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. See in Jesus the purpose of God: Jesus was not crazy, Jesus was not possessed, Jesus was anointed. I see the hand of God with Jesus: not crazy, not possessed, but anointed. I see the mighty works of God through Jesus, and I say—God sent Jesus, evil men killed Jesus, God raised him from the dead, Jesus is alive and at work in the world today. It is the good news.